Monday

4th Mar 2024

EU summit focuses on border security, Turkey

EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday (23 September) are in talks on broader aspects of the migrant crisis, following a difficult deal on relocations Tuesday.

The focus will be on helping Turkey to keep Syrian refugees on its soil and to crack down on smuggler networks, on strengthening external borders, and on aiding third countries in the Middle East and Africa.

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“We have now reached a critical point where we need to end mutual recriminations and misunderstandings”, Donald Tusk, EU council president, said on arriving to the meeting.

“Tonight our debate must be based on facts not on illusions and emotions”.

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite was more blunt. “We didn’t tackle serious questions yet. We’ll only start today”, she told reporters upon arrival.

“It is not lack of European unity, but lack of European wisdom”.

Turkey is key

Speaking of Turkey and other Syria neighbours, Tusk said: “Our partners are expecting our help to solve their refugee problems rather than thinking of how they can help us”.

An EU spource said Turkey is in a better than ever bargaining position to get extra EU funding.

He also said it wants easing of European pressure on the increasingly authoritarian Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Turkey is key, if not ‘the’ key to the issue”, said the diplomat.

Turkey hosts 2.2 million refugees four years after the civil war broke out in Syria.

The European Commission said recently it could offer €1 billion to help.

Defending borders

Leaders will also talk about external border security.

On recent form, the EU’s so-called Schengen area travel freedoms mean it’s impossible to control who goes where once migrants enter the bloc.

The fear is more EU countries will reintroduce border controls, de facto dismantling Schengen - a signature EU achievement.

Hungary is about to complete a fence along its border with Croatia, a neighboring EU member, after building a fence on its Serbia line.

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, said on arrival in Brussels on Wednesday the EU should focus on Greece.

“If Greece cannot defend its borders we should ask, kindly, since it is a sovereign country, to let other countries police the border,” he told reporters.

He’s also proposing, in a six-point plan, to separate refugees from “economic migrants” before they arrive in the EU.

For his part, Tusk said existing EU agencies - Frontex (border control), Europol (joint police), and the European Asylum Office - can help defend the EU’s thin blue line.

Divisions

The summit takes place amid a bitter divide on migrant relocations.

Big EU states, on Tuesday, in a vote, forced the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia to take part in a relocation scheme they don’t want.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, who proposed the plan to share 120,000 refugees, tried to be both conciliatory and firm.

“I talked to the Czech prime minister and he said he is ready to implement what concerns his country. We will not reopen [yesterday’s] decision, it must be respected”. he said on Wednesday,.

Prague and Bratislava had threatened to take the matter to the European Court of Justice. But Prague later withdrew its threat.

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